"What's This Fucking Song?" How A Yankees Free Spirit Reluctantly Ushered In Baseball's Entrance-Music Era

Sparky Lyle's arrival in New York was nothing to get excited about. On March 22, 1972, the Boston Red Sox traded the good but nondescript lefty reliever to the Yankees for Danny Cater and a player to be named later. Ho-hum. But when he actually came into the games—that was something else.

It wasn't merely that in his age-28 season, he had blossomed into a dominant fireman, on his way to an American League-record 35 saves (and nine wins) in more than 100 innings. "His entrances were so theatrical," said Marty Appel, then a green flack for the Yankees. "The confidence, the body language, the whole thing had a bit of drama to it."

In a biography Appel wrote of the late Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, he described Lyle at work:

He'd arrive in the Datsun bullpen car (our sponsor), throw open the door, jump out of it with fire in his eyes, throw his warm-up jacket to the waiting batboy, and storm to the mound. A few quick warm-ups and then he'd stare in at Munson, waiting for the batter to dare to step up.

Watching Lyle's already-electric appearances, early in the '72 season, Appel wanted even more. What Sparky needed, the publicist decided, was his own song.

No one before had thought of such a thing. Entrance music is ubiquitous today—Mariano Rivera's dominance can scarcely be mentioned without a reference to "Enter Sandman"—but back then, pitchers came out to whatever generic tune the organist happened to be playing. Plus the Yankees were squarer than Carl Fredricksen's jaw. To them, B.J. Thomas's "Rain Drops Keep Fallin' on My Head" was edgy. In other words, a version of "War Pigs" wouldn't have worked.

"The organization probably wasn't ready for a rock song," Appel said. One of his friends was the son of David Carey, a studio musician who'd toured with Frank Sinatra. Appel described a typical Lyle entrance to the elder Carey and asked for advice. Carey recommended Sir Edgar Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance."

The graduation march—known to '80s and '90s WWF fans as dearly departed "Macho Man" Randy Savage's theme—was the kind of triumphant accompaniment Appel was looking for. And so, 40 years ago, the era of entrance music began.

When Yankees manager Ralph Houk signaled to the bullpen late in games, Appel would use binoculars to determine who was getting into the Datsun. Then, from the press box, he'd call organist Toby Wright's direct phone line. If Appel said, "It's Lyle," Wright would slowly begin playing "Pomp and Circumstance."

"As soon as the car pulled through the gate, the place started to get it," Appel said. "It worked almost from day one."

By August, Time Magazine was mentioning the song-aided entrances. The one person who didn't quite get it was Lyle. "I don't hear anything out there," he told Sports Illustrated in 1972, presumably lying through his chaw. "I'm looking at Thurman's chest, not the crowd. I am not an emotional person."

Lyle, now 68 years old, told me that he hadn't been aware "Pomp and Circumstance" was his entrance music till he read about it in the New York papers. As he put it, his teammates' reaction at the time was, "What's this fucking song?"

The refreshingly profane Lyle, who along with Peter Golenbock wrote the Yankees tell-all The Bronx Zoo and who loved bare-assing teammates' birthday cakes, was never accused of being uptight. But something about "Pomp and Circumstance" made him uncomfortable.

"What if people are coming to their first baseball game, and there's all this fanfare for me?" Lyle said. "What if I get my ass kicked? What are they gonna think?"

After two years, he had had enough. "I'm just not that type of guy," he said. The winter following the 1973 season, he told Appel—who by then had become the Yankees public relations director—how he felt. "You can play a song for anybody else you want," Lyle remembers saying. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't [for me]."

Appel recalls Lyle saying that the song put too much pressure on him. It didn't quite make sense. "Sparky was flamboyant," Appel said. Pressure didn't bother the hurler. Plus, Appel said half-jokingly, the song "made us both."

Still, Lyle couldn't totally escape his former entrance music. Unhappy with his contract situation in early 1978, he initially refused to report to spring training. When he finally arrived in Florida late that February, the Yankees had a 100-piece marching band waiting for him at the Fort Lauderdale airport. Naturally, it played "Pomp and Circumstance."

"I'm glad that's over," Lyle said, laughing. "I couldn't figure anybody else would want [entrance music]." These days, he manages the Somerset (N.J.) Patriots, an unaffiliated minor league club. Unsurprisingly, his team is music-obsessed. There are times, Lyle said, when he wonders, "What the fuck is this stuff?" But mostly, he doesn't mind what's blaring through the stadium speakers.

Recently, some players approached him and asked if he had any batting practice song requests. He made only one. "Play 'The House of the Rising Sun' first," he said. "Then I'm good for the rest of the day."

Alan Siegel is a writer in Washington, D.C. Contact him at asiegel05@gmail.com; follow him on Twitter @alansiegeldc.